WASHINGTON (AP) — With anti-gay laws taking root in nearly 80 countries, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday cast the protection of gays from global discrimination, abuse and even death as one of the most challenging international human rights issue facing the United States.
Rice told a White House forum of gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world. She urged religious, human rights and HIV health care advocates to form a united front to halt global discrimination against the LGBT community.
"To achieve lasting global change, we need everyone's shoulder at the wheel," she said. "With more voices to enrich and amplify the message — the message that gay rights are straight-up human rights — we can open more minds."
Rice cautioned that the effort is difficult because laws limiting gay rights in some countries enjoy strong popular support. But she said cultural differences do not excuse human rights violations.
"Governments are responsible for protecting the rights of all citizens, and it is incumbent upon the state, and on each of us, to foster tolerance and to reverse the tide of discrimination," Rice said.
Last week, the U.S. imposed visa bans on Ugandan officials who are involved in corruption and are violating the rights of gay people and others. Uganda passed a law in February that strengthened criminal penalties for gay sex and made life sentences possible for those convicted of breaking the law.
During his trip to Africa last year, Obama while in Senegal urged African leaders to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians. Senegal's president, however, pushed back saying his country "still isn't ready" to decriminalize homosexuality. Seven countries have laws imposing death sentences for gay sex and Brunei is on track to becoming the eighth one.
"The United States government will continue to beat back barriers and speak out on behalf of the rights of all people the world over. We do this both because it's our moral obligation, and because it's in our interests," Rice said. "Nations that protect human rights are more stable, more peaceful and more prosperous partners for the United States."
Tuesday's forum was the latest administrative attempt by Obama to promote gay and lesbian rights both in the United States and abroad. Obama successfully pushed to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military and his administration stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act years before the Supreme Court took it up.
Earlier this month, Obama announced he will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Last week, it also granted new benefits to same-sex couples, including those who live in states where gay marriage is against the law.